Member Spotlight: Duvall Tavern
By Paul Schlienz
The Duvall Tavern embodies resilience – both in its long history and in its people.
The tavern opened for business in 1934, the year after alcohol prohibition ended, and remains thriving today. According to the Duvall Historical Society, it is the oldest operating business in Duvall, a small town in the northeastern part of King County.
The tavern’s website recounts how during two eventful days in 1963, it was purchased and sold three times in 48 hours. First, a well-known Snoqualmie Valley gambler won the tavern in a poker game. Next, he sold it to another gambler to pay off a gambling debt. Then, that gambler sold it to someone else who actually wanted to get into the business of owning and operating a tavern.
Duvall has changed a lot since 1934, but one thing has been constant. The Duvall Tavern has always remained the social center and beating heart of the town from its original days as a rough-hewn farming and logging community to the 1970s, when it was known for its hippies and bikers, to the town’s current incarnation as a bedroom community for Microsoft employees in search of more spacious living than can be found in Redmond or Bellevue.
And you’ll find a real cross-section of Duvall at the tavern.
“Along with the Microsoft people, you’ll see old guard, blue collar people,” said Joel Stedman, the tavern’s co-owner. “It really is the focal point of town.”
Everyone is welcome to this common ground.
Not surprisingly, for a hospitality establishment that is so central to its town, the Duvall Tavern also actively supports community activities and charities by holding auctions for the local schools and fundraisers for events like Music in the Parks.
“Duvall’s an incredible community and we’re really very well-supported by both our staff and customers,” Stedman said
Stedman, who co-owns several taverns is delighted with his hospitality industry career.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “If you’re so immersed in it that it’s your passion, it becomes your labor of love. It’s a people business, which is why I got into it. I love being around people, hanging out and interacting.”
In his pursuit of a successful career, Stedman has also faced and overcome obstacles and challenges.
“I was doing my thing and moving forward,” recalls Stedman. “Then, in March 2017, I noticed a spot in one eye. To make a long story short, after going through the gamut with doctors, I was diagnosed a couple of months later with a hereditary rear optic nerve disorder that results in central vision loss. I was done with driving by summer and was using a white cane a year later.”
Stedman’s response to being legally blind, however, was not to stop, take a break, retire or go on disability, as many facing a similar life-altering setback might have done.
“I got engaged,” he said. “I got married. I bought some new establishments and I kept moving forward. I didn’t stop.”
Todd Larson, the tavern’s general manager and Stedman’s business partner, is amazed by his friend’s resilience in the face of adversity.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like if what he’s going through happened to me,” Larson said. “He’s handled it a lot better than I would have done, and he’s still the same guy I’ve been working with before all this happened. He has his moments, but he doesn’t let it hold him back at all. He’s definitely inspirational to me.”
As for Stedman’s future: Expect more of the same.
“I’m only 34 years old,” Stedman said. “I’ve still got a lot of gas in the tank.”
Photo courtesy of Duvall Tavern.